When health secretary Matt Hancock said in May, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, that he would do everything in his power to reward NHS staff for their sacrifices, many health workers gave him the benefit of the doubt.
“When it comes to how we reward people for their efforts in this crisis, what I can tell you is that as the Health Secretary I will be making sure that we fight to have that fair reward,” Hancock pledged.
But more than two months later, amid a pandemic that is far from over, with many predicting an imminent second wave, NHS staff are still making the very same sacrifices but with no reward in sight.
The government has justified denying the majority of NHS staff a pay rise last month by noting that they are part of the Agenda for Change pay deal struck in 2018 and the pay deal isn’t due to expire until April next year, when their pay will be reviewed.
While dentists and doctors were part of the public sector pay rise announced in July – which included 900,000 total public sector workers, comprising less than a fifth of the entire public sector workforce – a majority of NHS staff were excluded, such as nurses, paramedics, cleaners, porters and many more.
NHS staff last month took part in a demo, where Unite members and others marched from St Thomas Hospital to Downing Street to demand an early pay rise for all their hard work and sacrifice.
Now, many health staff are preparing to march again on Saturday (August 8) in demos across the country.
Unite, which has a 100,000 members in the health service, is supporting its members wishing to attend the socially-distanced protests, so that the government can see the depth of discontent and frustration of NHS staff who continue to be in the frontline in the battle against Covid-19.
Unite has made its position clear on pay – that it is seeking a substantial pay increase for its members.
Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams explains.
“Nursing staff and other allied health professionals have reacted with anger to being overlooked when pay rises were given to many in the public sector last month and the government not hearing the health trade unions’ call to bring their pay rise forward from April 2021,” she said.
“Last week, health workers marched to Downing Street to vent their anger that all their efforts during the pandemic, which has claimed so many of their colleagues’ lives, have appeared to be ignored when it comes to recognition in their pay packets.
“In a decade of Tory austerity, NHS staff has seen their pay cut by 20 per cent in real terms – and no amount of Thursday evening clapping and warm ministerial words can compensate for this dramatic loss in income,” she added.
“Poor rates of pay have contributed to the estimated 100,000 vacancies in the NHS and ensuing ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis.
“Unite is supporting our members wishing to turn out on Saturday. There will be a broad-based rolling campaign for NHS pay justice that will continue for the rest of the year.
“The public expects – and ministers should deliver – a substantial pay increase for NHS staff that reflects their real worth to the NHS and society more generally. NHS workers shouldn’t have to wait till April 2021.”
Unite has joined with 13 other health unions and professional organisations in the campaign to demand that pay talks start as soon as possible out of respect for the dedicated NHS staff who have battled Covid-19.
Unite said that the last three year pay deal, which ends in April 2021, had started to rectify the pay deficit, but this now needs to be substantially built on.
One of the key demos on Saturday will take place in London, where protestors will meet at St James’ Park from 11am, where they will then march along Whitehall to Downing Street and end at a rally in Parliament Square. Details of other demos on the day taking place across the UK be found here.
Stay tuned on UniteLive tomorrow as we hear from our members taking part in Saturday’s demos.
By Hajera Blagg